Trust, but Verify: The Ongoing Need for Rehearsal Day Emergency Response Drills


Since the spring of 2014, ICAS has encouraged every air show in North America to schedule an emergency response drill during their (typically) Friday rehearsal show.

Over time, the Friday emergency response drill has become a de facto standard in the air show business and proven its worth by regularly identifying bottlenecks, inconsistencies, and aspects of an air show’s emergency response in need of adjustment or change. To be clear, we now consider these drills to be not just preferred or desirable, but essential.

But, five years later and within a small segment of our business, complacency is rearing its head and some shows are now opting to skip the Friday drill, believing that several years of successful drills indicate that they are no longer needed. ICAS would like to strongly urge all shows to resist this idea.

As more and more shows have integrated emergency response drills into their Friday rehearsals, they typically find one of two things. If they’re well prepared and the drill goes smoothly that day, they find that the drills validate the organizers’ confidence in the readiness of emergency response equipment and personnel. But often, even well-prepared shows find a problem: lines of communication prove to be less reliable than expected; a piece of equipment has a small, but critical problem; a key member of the team reverts to normal, every-other-day-of-the-year protocol, causing a delay. It is the nature of air show emergency response plans that every part needs to work exactly as planned for the show’s response to be fast and effective. And the opposite is true: one small wrinkle or delay can be disastrous in the event of a real emergency.

That is why conducting an emergency response drill during the Friday rehearsal show is a good idea in the first place and why those drills should not be abandoned in the mistaken belief that a process that worked well last year will necessarily and reliably work well again this year.

Absolute worst case? You run an exercise on Friday that goes exactly as you would expect it to and discover that both the plan AND its implementation are excellent. Nearly as likely: you invest 15-20 minutes and minimal effort into a drill and you discover something that could help improve your team’s response in the event of a real emergency.

No matter how confident you are in your plan, your pre-show review of that plan and/or any table top exercises you may have conducted in the months and weeks leading up to your show, there is no substitute for a live drill conducted when personnel, tents, fencing, concessions stands and static display aircraft are in position where they’ll be in the event of a real emergency on Saturday or Sunday.

To read detailed instructions on how and when to conduct a live emergency response drill on rehearsal day,  click here.

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The International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) is a trade association dedicated to building and sustaining a vibrant air show industry to support its membership. To achieve this goal, ICAS demands its members operate their air show business at only the highest levels of safety, professionalism, and integrity.